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Black caucus, others join opposition to national testing – Congressional Black Caucus

Opposition is building to President Clinton’s national testing
proposal from a coalition that includes conservative Republicans and
the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).

Critics say schools may use such tests to continue tracking
low-achieving, low-income students, thereby making them less likely to
graduate from high school and enroll in college.

“Widespread misuse of educational testing has disproportionately
penalized poor and minority children,” said Rep. Maxine Waters
(D-Calif.), chairwoman of the CBC. “[The president’s proposal] provides
no enforceable safeguards against the misuse of test results that can
harm our children.”

The unusual coalition of GOP leaders plus African American and
Hispanic Democrats gave the president’s plan a resounding vote of no
confidence in late September. The full House of Representatives voted
295 to 125 to prohibit the Clinton administration from spending federal
funds to develop national tests.

“When there is no effort to improve school facilities or to provide
adequate libraries, laboratories, computers and other learning
necessities, the burden of improving education is dumped solely on the
backs of the pupils,” said Rep. Major R. Owens (D-N.Y.), another CBC

“We need opportunities to learn before we mandate national tests,” he added.

The president’s plan calls for voluntary tests beginning in 1999,
with a goal that all students perform at or above the basic level on
the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Only 60 percent of
students performed at that level in 1994.

Tests would take place in the fourth and eighth grades. The proposal
would not require schools to conduct tests, but the administration
initially would offer the tests at no charge.

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights opposes the initiative,
and Hispanic lawmakers also called the plan a recipe for failure.

“The whole testing issue raises a red flag for limited English
proficient (LEP) students,” said Rep. Ruben Hinojsa (D-Tex.). “It sets
up the LEP students to fail. When that kicks in, young people begin to
drop out of school.”

The administration has maintained that tests would help American
students meet world-class standards, since other industrialized nations
use tests to dictate a student’s education and career choices. The
White House continually has emphasized the voluntary nature of its
program, but the argument did not sway Republican critics.

“What federal program do my colleagues know that, once it started,
is voluntary?” said Rep. William Goodling (R-Pa.), who chairs the House
Education and the Workforce Committee.

American students already are subject to many tests, Goodling said,
and the results regularly affect the self-esteem of about half of the
children who do not perform well.

“We do not help those who are not doing well in education with one
more standardized national test to tell them, ‘You are doing poorly,'”
he said.

Legislation to ban spending on national tests also is on the
Senate’s calendar, although – based on recent debate – that chamber is
more open to the plan. The Senate voted eighty-eight to twelve to
endorse the Clinton plan.

However, acknowledging its testing plan faces problems, the
administration said it temporarily will suspend efforts to get federal
funding for its idea. The administration had planned to spend about
$100 million on the tests, a responsibility which would fall to a
National Assessment Governing Board.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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